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How To Lie
All of the social workers were the same, if you thought about it.
There was Grace, with the blond curls and too-bright smile, and Esme who laughed when nothing was funny. Michelle was tall and always talked about how concerned she was, and Layla gave squeeze hugs all the darn time.
Each of them was ridiculously annoying in their own way, and they were all nosy - but the reality was that they didn't care about me or Nia. Their job was to talk to us and sympathize, but it didn't matter what went on in those meetings, as long as their stupid forms were filled out.
Nia and I got past each of them easily, rambling on and on about dumb things. We never really gave them useful information about us and our lives.
But then Rey came along. Rey, he was different.
He made us think twice before saying nothing.
To start off, Rey was a man. Me and Nia had never talked to a male social worker before. But there he was, a tall, good-looking man with a deep voice and warm eyes.
The little girl in me wanted to hug him and tell him that he reminded me of my Dad ... before everything that happened. And Nia, who was still a little girl, must have wanted to do the same.
But both of us resisted giving him even the smallest smile, because no matter who he reminded us of, he was our enemy. He was the one trying to tear our carefully constructed lives apart.
And Rey seemed to understand. He seemed to get that we would never - could never - trust him, no matter what he said or did. Unless of course, he caught us in a trap. Then we wouldn't have a choice, would we?
The first thing he said to us wasn't said with an infuriatingly calm smile, and it wasn't said with sympathetic glances for both me and my sister. He didn't try to hug us or hold our hands, and there were no promises about it "getting better".
I'm sure he knew as well as we did that it wasn't getting better because of one useless social service meeting.
So Rey, considering the situation, did the best thing he could. He looked both of us in the eye and said, "Y'all have been through a whole lot."
Then he waited, staring at us, willing us to give him some sort of reaction. When we said nothing, he sighed. It was a sad kind of sigh, and it held the weight of the world. It made me wonder, how much did this man really know?
"Look." he said, pushing his longish hair out of his eyes. "I can't force you to talk to me. I can't force you to tell me the truth. But the situation you're in, it's not good. You're in danger, no matter what you think. When I was a kid-" he breaks off, shaking his head.
"But this isn't about me. This is about you two. You can't push away help if you need it. All we're trying to do is help." He looks right at me then, as if he knows that I'm afraid of accepting his help. Maybe he does know, but I refuse to let it show.
Instead, I glare at him, hoping he can see the fire in my eyes. When he doesn't flinch, I cross my arms. "You tryna say my parents are crap? Cuz they're not."
He doesn't back off. He's a strong one, this Rey. "No, not at all." His voice is insanely calm. "I'm trying to say that if you need help, ANY HELP, you better ask for it. Because from what I've been hearing, your dad ain't been treating anyone right. And I think you know that it's not okay for him to do anything to you or your mom."
I think of Nia crying herself to sleep at night. I think of my mom staring out the window for hours at a time. I think of the blisters and burn marks on my hand. I think of the bruises and scars on all of us.
For a second, I want to tell Rey everything. I want him to help.
But then I think of foster families, and leaving behind the few good memories I still have left. No, I decide. Rey won't be getting anything out of us.
I glare again. "We're being treated fine, thank you very much."
Something in his face changes. His soft look becomes determined. "Oh really?" he says, his voice challenging, almost daring me to lie again.
This guy's a lot more persistent than the rest.
"Your little sister ended up in the hospital. It seems like your father pushed her down the stairs. Is that fine? Is it really?"
"SHE FELL, YOU MORON! DON'T YOU DARE SAY THOSE THINGS ABOUT MY DAD. IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, NOTHING MORE!" I'm screaming before I can help it. I don't want to admit that he's right. Saying it makes it true. And maybe Dad will get better. He promised he would.
And he promised the time before that. And the time before that. And the time before that.
But Rey doesn't need to know that. No one needs to know that.
"Okay then, Ana." He says my name like a curse. Then he shakes his head. "I hate to do this, but if you're not going to talk to me, then you can say what you want to the authorities. I'm filing a police report about your dad, because I have a sneaking suspicion what's going on here."
All the fight slowly drains out of me. This was it. I had nowhere to go from here. You can't deceive the law, can you?
As if he knows what I'm thinking, Rey frowns at me. "I'm going to ask you one question. And you are going to answer me honestly."
No, no I wasn't. Not if I could help it.
"Does your dad hurt any of you - physically or emotionally?"
He knows the answer. He just wants to hear me say it. He needs proof that it's true, so he can prove my family guilty. So he can tear my life apart.
One second passes, then two. I know I should tell him the truth.
But Rey, sitting there, he makes me so mad. He knows nothing about me, nothing about my "messed-up family". Or, he knows something, but it's not the important part. He knows my dad as a monster, cruel to his kids and absorbed in his problems.
But Rey doesn't know, and never will know, that Dad used to spin us until we were all laughing too hard to breathe, that he taught me how to deal with life better than anyone else could.
Rey will only ever see my mom as fragile and depressed. He has never tasted the secret apple pie that she used to make, he hasn't felt her gentle hands comb his hair.
Me and my sister would never be anything but a charity case to him. He will never hear Nia sing her songs, her voice light and feathery. He won't ever see me paint, my eyes relaxed at last.
I knew he would never see us as real people, because even if he was better than the rest, when he leaves this building, he has a whole other life.
He probably is a dad, and maybe a brother and husband too. He probably has hobbies and friends to go to when he’s done with us. Why should it matter to him what happens to stupid kids like us?
He. Doesn’t. Care.
Repeating that in my head, I do the only thing I can.
I look him in the eye and lie.